Crafting your sense of self

The myth covers only one perspective – maybe Narcissus wasn’t admiring himself in the pool: maybe he was trying to get a sense of himself in the eyes of Other People. Yes – he fell in love with himself – where else was he getting a reflection of self? Who else was offering him a deeper idea of who he is? How else is he going to figure out himself?

In that same way, kiddos receive feedback about who they are based on the reflection from adults in their lives. It’s part of raising kids – and many times it happens under the surface and we don’t even realize how we’re doing it. They pick up on the slight frown, or the sharp exhalation when they say something, or the brightness in our eyes when we see them in the morning, and the open smile. They get a sense of their value and importance in our lives and their own from what they see in us.

As they get older, these non-verbal cues are still important to the developing sense of their adult self. Important information is also gleaned through the words we use and the topics we discuss with them: whether we entrust them with more mature concepts and ‘heavier’ issues. We may feel that they’re not yet ready to tackle these higher level issues, but they do. It can be construed as criticisms and negativity when we don’t include them.

Sensitivity to those slights and criticisms increase, and they hear it louder and more boldly than we may intend. As their map of this adult world expands, they become aware of how their words and actions impact those around them in a more mature way – hence part of the typical self-centered-ness we often see in teens.

A benefit to having two adults in the house is that the adults can help each other see the positives in the kiddos, and gently point out if there have been too many critical comments (haha, or maybe not so gently). When it’s a single parent household with few external adult relationships, all the roles fall into the purview of the present parent.

When drama is unfurling its flag and my view of trio is hazy, it’s helpful for me to take a step back and create some space. It’s easy to lose sight of the bouncing ball that keeps me on track of being the Parent and Modelling. So – to create space between stimulus and reaction where I can check in with myself, breathe, and find out what’s really going on inside. I don’t want trio to create a vision of themselves that is skewed to my reactions and what’s going on inside of me: whatever triggers or thoughts or stresses that I’m working through doesn’t even involve them and I don’t want them to think it’s because of them. But since they have a tendency to think it’s all about them, it can be tough to adequately express that it’s my issue, not theirs (and then they have to realize that I have issues too! That’s a lot for kiddos to absorb).

A wonderful piece of advice was given to me when trio were small: they’re going to be screwed up. I’m going to screw them up. That’s part of being human. We are all imperfect and will all have areas for growth. And it’s wonderful and beautiful and very normal. Humans who know they are imperfect have great potential for growth. Maybe helping trio see that will help them be open to growth and development now and later in life.

xo
Mto3

 

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Embracing the chaos…

My house is perpetually messy. There are always too many pairs of shoes in the closet (or on the floor outside the closet). Coats are hung on the backs on chairs or the slung onto doors. My walls are filled with framed art from trio’s school years. There are photos tacked onto a big section of the wall of kids with marker on their faces, drips on their shirts, and smile-less mouths. The sink often has baking utensils ‘soaking’ until I get around to washing them.

But! We also have a calendar on the fridge with the week mapped out – lunches, after school activities, my work schedule, dinner responsibilities, and due dates. I will forget things if I don’t write them down. There’s another full month calendar tacked to the wall with a different set of information for the month – birthdays, sleepovers, who fed the dog that day, chore lists, and weekend plans. I have a personal agenda for my items that don’t involve trio. And finally, a white board for daily lists, notes, and reminders to communicate among all of us.

It is a tough thing, developmentally speaking, to hold onto two opposing sensations: it’s typically an either-or mindset. I am both organized and woefully chaotic at any given time. Many of us have experienced being happy and sad at the same time, or feeling anxious during peaceful moments. We seek to tip the scales into one ‘bucket’ to help us make better sense of our environment – and ourselves. How can I define myself if I’m two opposite things? What category can I fit into if I’m two (or more) of the options?

A recent learning for me has been to recognize those dichotomous feelings – just naming it helps bring it into the light – and letting them both be. Be true in that moment. Be true at the same time. Be not true at the same time.  There is a reluctance to allow space for contrast, as though one of them must be “bad” and therefore undesirable. But remove that label on these feelings and let them be just even for a moment to recognize them.

I walked doggo around the neighbourhood tonight. It was cool outside, and breezy and he was staying by my side so nicely. And I had an unexpected knot of anxiety suddenly roil in my belly. Huh?
I thought I felt relaxed.

This was a moment to practice that it’s fiiiiine to feel both anxious and calm, without judging or nitpicking the feelings. Just “yep, this is what I feel right now.” Just embracing it and then letting it go.

Eldest made a funny comment the other day and referenced Schrodinger’s cat – so many layers on why it was funny – but I really appreciated that he seems to ‘get’ that it’s possible to gently hold onto opposition.
Coming up our front porch after walking the dog and just before the front door opens, our house is both organized and chaotic at the same time, we just allow that truth to be, until we take a step in and see it for what it is:
A house full of family and all the contrast that means.

xo
Mto3

Saying no and other issues…

Did you ever watch Who’s the Boss with Tony Danza and Judith Light? There are so many classic episodes, but the one that sprung to mind recently was the episode when Angela tried a ‘positive parenting’ approach and never said No (S7e7). Parents are always trying to figure out what will work with their kids, as well as what works for them.

Anyway, that’s sort of the approach that I took with trio. Instead of giving an outright no, I’d try to reframe their request with what they *could* do in my response to their question. I found, when they were small, that it helped to hear what was possible, rather than just shutting down their desire with a flat out No – unless it was unsafe or there was a bigger issue at play. But on the day-to-day, I didn’t want them to be brutally rebuffed at every question (because man, don’t they ask a lot in a day!) – I was worried about tantrums and rebelliousness (ergo it was easier for me too).

My teenager is now actually asking to be told no. When he asks for a Nutella sandwich after dinner and before bed, I tell him what he can have instead (cheese, banana, peanut butter, etc). And his retort is “A No would have sufficed…” But I KNOW that his next question will be an exasperated “Well! What *can* I have then??” Part of parenting is always being wrong (but geez, I totally thought the best part of parenting was always being right!! Sigh.)

Peeking under the surface of this exchange, I hear him asking for clearer boundaries. Since I’ve never had a teenager before, I’m open to learning alongside him and striving to figure out what this means for me as his parent. Maybe there is problem solving that I’m inadvertently denying him. By supplying the answer to his unasked question (What can I have then??) I have prevented him from taking the next step in his own path of discovery. And really, the food-snack issue is just an analogy for other ways in which I’m precluding his self-awareness. It’s about food just now, but soon he’ll need to uncover his own path about social relationships, time management, finances, and other adult-y things. He practices with these smaller issues so he can better navigate those more challenging pieces of life.

There will be times that he might need my support in decision making and those times would be appropriate for me to ask questions, rather than giving conversation-stopping-negatives or supply him with an unrequested answer. I’ll hold out for those moments and Just Say No when it makes sense.

As always, I’m so grateful that he’s my first. He’s been so great with articulating himself so I can hear and learn these sticky webs that we’re all trying to navigate.

xo
Mto3

Well.

That was a busy entry into our school season! Two kiddos shifted into new schools and routines (uhm… high school!? Hello! How is it possible that I’ve got a total teenager?) and I have been left reeling with my own issues of easing back into the groove.

The summer was a blaze of togetherness, adventures, and now that vacay is behind us, we’re settling into normalcy: homework, chores, after-school activities, and work.

Yay autumn!

Raising Men

Many years ago, it was tough to reconcile that my two oldest were these small baby-ish bodies that were going to morph and mature and be molded into Men. And that I was supposed to do it with very (very!) little influence from those humans who had already walked this path.

Whaat!

Well. I’m here. My baby boys are changing in front of my eyes. I’m truly (truly!) not sure when it happened, but my oldest is now the size of his father, and when he hugs me, he has the same heft and presence as another adult. No longer do I need to crouch over a little bit when I check his teeth for cleanliness – in fact, I need to go up on my toes (this happened this morning: not gonna hide it. He was 2 minutes late in catching his morning bus, and said no when I asked whether he had brushed his teeth. The solution? He gave me a toothy grin and asked ‘how do they look?’ and I assessed the fuzziness and gave him a piece of minty gum. Mhm. That is 730am parenting of a teenager at its finest.)

His size, the size of his shoes (it’s the same as his age: 13!!), his deepening voice, his constant hunger, his sleeping in. I can no longer deny it. My baby is growing up. And once I swallow the lump in my throat, I find even though he doesn’t really look like my wee babe anymore, he still is – in some ways. He still needs help clipping the nails on his right hand. I have to remind him to clean his ears. To take a sweatshirt on these autumn days. He accepts my hugs, and *occasionally* seeks them out. I will still do things for him that I know he’s capable of doing: making an evening snack, helping make his bed, getting him a drink while I’m in the kitchen… At some point, he will no longer ask me to do those things.

Without an in-home example of a Man, he has still managed to figure out that complimenting the chef is a wonderful thing to do. He does after-dinner tidy-up with his siblings and I. He mows the lawn. He does laundry. He helps his siblings with homework. He has a paper route and is active in his Scouts community. He texts to let me know when he’s out with his friends to keep me looped in. He sets the table and takes out the garbage. He loves fast, expensive cars. He loves first person shooter games. He interacts and chats with adults with confidence, humour, and respect. He makes an effort to problem solve and chat out issues.

As he matures, I believe it’s becoming less important to have an example of a Man in the house as it is to have learned about being an Adult. And I can do that. I am doing it. We’re doing it together. Figuring it out, and navigating as a team. I’m sure he’s collecting experiences and examples of being a man* from his grandfather, his scout leaders, school staff, and he gets to choose the pieces that he would like to emulate.

If time travel were possible, I wish to tell my 10 year younger-self that it’s ok if I don’t know anything about raising boys! It turns out that kids don’t need gender-fication as they grow up. It’s just raising children into adults.

x Mto3


*An endearing thing happened the other day when we bumped into a friend at the park and we met her husband for the first time. My dear 13 yo commented afterwards about the qualities he saw in the husband (kind to animals, friendly with strangers, polite, funny) and said he wasn’t surprised our friend married him because he seems like a good guy. I love that he was watching the man and picking up traits he admired and find valuable. 

 

 

Dating done different

The last time I dated in earnest, cell phones were brand new. And I was only just barely out of my teens. I now have a teen of my own. Weird.

The really weird thing is that I have to use a new paradigm. It is inappropriate for me to ‘act the role’ when I’m meeting someone new. I have balls now. I get shit done. I’ve lived, and loved, and lost and there’s not much someone can show me that’s new.

This dovetails back to my questions about why bother dating at all? What am I really getting out of it? I don’t need another person to take care of, nor do I need a man to take care of me. This has stymied me and prevented me from exerting any effort into the relationship world. Not to mention the fact that I don’t really understand what is so great about relationships anyhow. But that’s a story for another day.

Today’s story:
Sliding over the details, I met a man. This man shakes up my world and asks me to set aside that which I thought I understood to try and consider a new perspective. He listens, and offers insight, and reflects concepts and understandings back to me. He inspires me to be real and genuine and authentic and is helping me understand that my own self-love is the first ingredient in a healthy relationship with others. He operates out of a dating paradigm that is unlike anything I’ve ever known or understood. He has a laundry list of characteristics and traits that I enjoy – I’m sure you know the ones I mean.
The thing that sets him apart from any other man I’ve ever known is his spark and zestiness combined with a wisdom and depth that I wasn’t expecting.

He says no games, and I actually think he means No Games. I can be pretty direct and open with my thoughts and feelings, but I have a hard time trusting over the long term. The part with No Games that I struggle is in the behaviours and weird emotional bits that drag me into the familiarity of push-me/pull-me.
Into me getting wrapped up into what-is-he-thinking-about-right-now?
Into does-he-really-like-me?
Into me analyzing myself and every exchange we’ve had and wondering if it was the right thing to say.
Into thinking about who sent the last text or the first text and therefore who should be texting the next time.
Ugh. Like super-ugh! Who has time or energy for *that*???

So I found and adopted this New Way of Thinking of Relationships:

  • We are sharing life’s adventures
  • I am practicing acceptance and empathy
  • I am developing my communication skills
  • I am learning about trust
  • I am present in this moment as I lift my eyes up and take a look

This has shifted my relationship focus off of the generic him who stands before me, and lets me dive a little deeper into the real individual standing beside me. It takes away the slightly aggressive and possibly antagonistic face-to-face quality of comparing, and lets me look sideways at him to imagine him as my partner, walking beside me for this part of my journey. In a very real way, it puts me back in my own shoes as I walk.

If I am getting huffy and hurt that he’s not responding to my passive-aggressive hints, I remember that I’m learning about trust and am developing my communication skills – I have the power to change the conversation. And if I don’t like his answer, I can practice empathy and acceptance. And if I look up and see that we are no longer sharing life’s adventures – then what.the.fuck. am I doing here? And then I have more decisions to make. It’s still early days so he and I haven’t had any moments where I’m hurt and huffy and trying to force him to get a clue. I very honestly and directly tell him what I’m feeling and thinking and we go from there. He hasn’t yet told me I’m ridiculous, nor has he intimated that he doesn’t want to talk about it. It feels that he sets things aside and hangs in with me while we work through stuff – all the while asking questions, telling me stories or things from his past, making poignant comments.

Obviously, I could go on and on about him.

However – it stands to show that there ARE other ways to date. And there ARE other ways to consider what dating might mean for you – maybe it’s not acceptance, maybe it’s something else. But I believe it is through dating (and all relationships, really) that affords you the ability to learn and grow.

That is a new thought for me. And maybe that’s part of the answer to “Why bother dating at all?”

 

here comes the sun
Here comes the sun

Turns out I’m the student *and* the teacher

Why is it so hard for me to create a new script between Lil Miss and I?

I still have these expectations of her that she wants to meet, but just cannot. And while I sometimes find it easy to make space for her, other times I hear:
judgements from others;
my fears of what she’ll be like as a teen;
and my inadequacies at having more helpful interactions with her.

And then I get mad at myself but take it out in other ways.

And how can I help her sibs understand that she’s not being malicious (but can I be sure she’s not being malicious??). And how can I encourage her to blossom as an individual when she hears such negative things all day long – in her own head and from other people’s mouths? When everything is such a challenge for her? When just copying words from a blackboard is an exersize in frustration?

Why do I hold onto this expectation? I couldn’t love her anymore than I already do. How can I let go and still encourage her to do and be good in the world? How do I accept her as she is, yet let it be known that her actions aren’t always acceptable?

How do I feed the love and starve the fear?